Having to justify the value of using case studies in research gets quite wearing….

As an interpretivist researcher I invariably feel I have to justify the case study approach as a lesser way of accessing knowledge.  I was therefore pleased to see Oxford University’s Professor  Bent Flyvbjerg’s LinkedIn posting on this topic, ‘Misunderstanding No. 1 about Case Studies’ .

This statement presents the crux of his argument:

Common to all experts, however, is that they operate on the basis of intimate knowledge of several thousand concrete cases in their areas of expertise. Context-dependent knowledge and experience are at the very heart of expert activity. Such knowledge and expertise also lie at the center of the case study as a research and teaching method; or to put it more generally, still: as a method of learning. Phenomenological studies of the learning process therefore emphasize the importance of this and similar methods: it is only because of experience with cases that one can at all move from being a beginner to being an expert. If people were exclusively trained in context-independent knowledge and rules, that is, the kind of knowledge which forms the basis of textbooks, they would remain at the beginner’s level in the learning process. This is the limitation of analytical rationality: it is inadequate for the best results in the exercise of a profession, as student, researcher, or practitioner.’

He says much more. Read it and see for yourself.


Have a productive day,


Writing deadlines

My fixation today has been about writing deadlines…my own and those of my professional doctoral students. My own because I am a week late returning reviews of other academics’ journal articles and others because missing deadlines on doctoral documents can have a catastrophic impact on the eventual result….even to the extent of missing the final ‘drop dead date’ for doctoral submission of the final document(s).

Here are some comments provided from Richard Nordquist entitled ‘Writers on writing’ (http://grammar.about.com/b/2013/04/03/writers-on-writing-thank-god-for-deadlines.htm?nl=1)

I know that a deadline can be both life and death to a piece of writing and that death is sometimes preferable. It depresses me utterly to see children being forced to finish a piece of writing when they’re sick of it, lacking in inspiration, and getting negative feedback in writing conferences. No one forces me to finish my writing, and I’m a published writer, so why should any writer be ruled in such a manner by someone who doesn’t own the writing anyway?
(Mem Fox, Radical Reflections: Passionate Opinions on Teaching, Learning, and Living. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1993)

I do not know any writers who write without deadlines, or who write at all before there is a self-imposed or external deadline. There must be some, but they are few indeed. Whenever I stop giving myself a deadline–a minimum number of pages by a certain hour on a certain day–then I stop writing. Without deadlines I do not write.
(Donald Murray, A Writer Teaches Writing. Houghton Mifflin, 1985)

Anything with a deadline is automatically more important than something without.
(Rowena Murray, Writing for Academic Journals, 2nd ed. Open University Press, 2009)

If you work alone, you really need to want to write because it calls for self-motivation . . .. I once read that 80 percent of writers need a deadline and only 20 percent don’t. If you are writing on spec, without a deadline, you’d better want it.
(Aline Soules, “Networking and Serendipity in Publishing.” Writing and Publishing: The Librarian’s Handbook, ed. Carol Smallwood. American Library Association, 2010)

Deadlines and money. If I didn’t have a deadline and never received payment, I wouldn’t write at all.
(Fay Weldon, interviewed by Alan Stevens. MediaMasters: Insider Secrets from the Big Names of Broadcast, Print and Social Media, ed. by Alan Stevens and Jeremy Nicholas. Bookshaker, 2009)

One huge aid to the writing-rewriting dynamic is the deadline. It forces savage action. Like form or design, the deadline is not a prison to creation. It offers a promised release from the self-created prison of indolence, of not writing.
(David Morley, The Cambridge Introduction to Creative Writing. Cambridge University Press, 2007)

Thank God for deadlines. . . . You need a deadline and a beastly editor who insists that you keep it.
(Ann Haymond Zwinger, “Field Notes and the Literary Process.” Writing Natural History: Dialogues with Authors, ed. by Edward G. Lueders. University of Utah Press, 1989)

Carole Tansley

Digital notebooks

Over the years I’ve tried a number of different types of notebooks for research and found the paper kind to be less than satisfactory. These days the iPad has revolutionised my notetaking and I have a variety of apps which all work to a greater of lesser degree. I began with Evernote and found their functionality to be wonderful, from having my own email to send research emails to my ‘electronic filing cabinet’ to the capability to clip web pages straight into the app. Great stuff. Www.evernote.com

Evernote logo



I don’t know if it is because I have been on holiday for Christmas and New Year but this week my reflective mood seems to have sent me to read up on all things from a personal perspective. For example, a book I particularly like is Carolyn Ellis’s methodological novel ‘The Ethnographic I’…This is a fictional account of a year in the life of a university course she teaches where she combines both methodological advice and her own personal stories into a learning vehicle. She presents her students’ narratives as they try to focus and craft their research projects and thus begin to understand what constitutes the auto-ethnographical research method. ‘Through Ellis’s interactions with her students, you are given useful strategies for conducting a study, including the need for introspection, the struggles of the budding ethnographic writer, the practical problems in explaining results of this method to outsiders, and the moral and ethical issues that get raised in this intimate form of research. Anyone who has taken or taught a course on ethnography will recognize these issues and appreciate Ellis’s humanistic, personal, and literary approach toward incorporating them into her work’ (Amazon review).


I also like’Autoethnography as Method’ by Heewon V. Chang. She presents a guide ‘on the process of conducting and producing an autoethnographic study through the understanding of self, other, and culture’. Advice is given on’steps in data collection, analysis, and interpretation with self-reflective prewriting exercises and self-narrative writing exercises to produce their own autoethnographic work. Chang offers a variety of techniques for gathering data on the self, from diaries to culture grams to interviews with others, and shows how to transform this information into a study that looks for the connection with others present in a diverse world.’


Following on from this I clicked on a feed to my Twitter account (@HR_innovation) and read about auto-analytics – a term new to me but quite an interesting concept. The blog post was called ‘MANAGING YOURSELF. To Stand or To Sit at Work: An Auto-Analytics Experiment’
by Suzy Jackson at http://s.hbr.org/VBeOAg .. An interesting article on measurement of self-analytics..she ‘wondered if I could use the burgeoning field of auto-analytics — collecting and analyzing data about myself — to make my life more active without having to join a gym.’
All of this collection and analysis of research material about experiences of living from your own perspective can only illuminate our understanding of our world to good effect (but it isn’t an easy way of doing research, so beware).


Six tips for improving thesis documents

Today I read a draft of a document that a student on our professional doctoral programme sent to me and thought how often certain themes are continuous flaws in the ‘production’ of a thesis.  Here are six tips for helping those drafts along:

1. Always have a ‘working’ title

The document draft had no title at all so it was difficult for me as a reader to orient myself to the topic the student was covering and I wondered if the student could actually say what the topic was, if asked.  this was a wasted opportunity to consider what the focus of this research. Those who do not relay this in writing in theses will not ‘feel’ the focus as researchers.

2. Produce an abstract in every draft. It helps the researcher and the reader to orient the research.

The same points apply with regard to producing a large paragraph of what the research is about conceptually, what the aims and objectives of the doctorate overall are, what the research questions are being considered in this document, what methods were used and what the empirical focus is, what was found and what the contributions are to current knowledge generally on the topic and the doctorate as a whole in particular. Look at this blog for advice on writing an abstract..

3. Introduction: Begin with the conceptual.

In this document the student did this and it was really great to be oriented as a reader straight away in the introduction.  Unfortunately the introduction then swung between different concepts. Keep the conceptual/theoretical focus clear. Then tell the reader what is known and what is to be covered in the document.

4. Introduction: say what the research questions are and explain how the document is structured to show how the research was conducted, what was found and what the elements mean to the overall study.

5. ‘Chapter’ headings. In this document we needed headings and sub headings to be used as signposts to the reader of what is to come next.  We did not have ‘Research methodology and methods’ as a heading at all so it was rather a shock to come across an extensive description of the case study organisation. Headings and sub-headings are great signposts to the flow of the argument. Use them thoughtfully and also think of them as drafts…. sometimes we put them in then forget to change them when we have changed the text underneath the heading to have different meanings.

6. Diagrams. Always label diagrams. In this document there was nothing to say what the diagrams meant and there was no explanation underneath.  Never ever put in a diagram and leave it up to the reader to make the connection between your study and the content of the diagram.

This was a very early draft of a document and there were no findings, discussion or conclusions. That is not a problem.  Well done to this student for beginning to write and having the courage to send it to me for comments.

That’s it for now. Keep writing and crafting. you don’t always need your supervisors’ feedback to continue. Read the text aloud to yourself to see if it makes sense.


PS one professor with an impressive writing record said that he ‘touches’ his research piece five times a day.  This might be excessive but some doctoral students do the touching so infrequently.  The document won’t write itself!

Hello world!

Hello world!.  Welcome to my blog. I am Professor of HR Innovation at Nottingham Business School (NBS) and my research interests lie in two main areas: talent management and the use information systems for people management processes in organisations. I am an interpretive researcher with a particular interest in the notion of identity: personal, professional and social. Follow me on Twitter,  at @HR_Innovation where I try to keep my followers informed about various new applications of technology which might be useful in their working lives as managers, consultants, students and others interested in keeping up to date in new areas of people management. My other identity is as Head of Professional Doctoral Programmes at NBS and this role enables me to engage in a job I love – supporting professionals in a journey towards intellectual capability resulting in a Doctorate in Business Administration. It’s a long way from where I started… wiring up telephone boxes in a factory in the North of England…

“Is this all there is, Mavis?”. “Yes, Florrie, we’re Northern and that’s all there is to it!”

Carole Tansley